John Tomase

DH rotations are boring, so here's hoping Red Sox find a slugger

Boston could benefit from finding another middle-of-the-lineup thumper.

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There's no easier way to goose an offense than at designated hitter, but the Red Sox appear intent on continuing a trend of prioritizing versatility over old-fashioned thunder.

From David Ortiz through J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox boasted the best DH production in baseball by a wide margin for nearly two decades, but new-school general managers have different ideas for the position, and Craig Breslow is apparently one of them.

Last year, 15 players took DH at-bats for the Red Sox, and they combined to hit an uninspiring .268 with just 18 homers, the fourth-lowest total in the game. Justin Turner (424) and Masataka Yoshida (205) split the majority of plate appearances en route to a middle-of-the-pack .755 OPS.

Breslow has already suggested he'd prefer to give manager Alex Cora a more versatile DH, but it's fair to question why, especially as bat-first veterans become increasingly devalued, and therefore perhaps undervalued.

"On a high level, we'd probably look to give Alex as much flexibility as possible, recognizing that it's a long season and there will be times when he's going to look to get guys off their feat but keep their bats in the lineup," Breslow said at the GM meetings, per MassLive. "I don't think there's one way to do it.

"Obviously, I played with a guy who manned the DH spot for quite some time and was pretty successful doing it. Short of that, having as many kind of creative possibilities as we can arrange is what makes sense."

With the analytics revolution extracting value out of every last corner of the roster, the traditional DH has suffered. Where sluggers like Ortiz, Frank Thomas, and Edgar Martinez once not only powered their respective offenses, but ticket sales, too, now the role is about giving someone who does something else half a day off.

It not only has a deadening effect on offense, it further exacerbates roster homogeneity, as data-driven executives build teams via the same equations. Forget about giving the job to a future Hall of Famer like Jim Thome or a would-be one like Rafael Palmeiro, now it's a way to get Yoshida's festering glove out of the lineup or give Rafael Devers some time off his feet.

The closest thing to an old-fashioned DH from a production standpoint is Angels MVP Shohei Ohtani, and needless to say, there's nothing traditional about him. But if the Red Sox are looking to add right-handed thump to their lineup, options remain in free agency.

No one seems particularly interested in Martinez, who lost his job in Los Angeles once the Dodgers agreed to (eventually) pay Ohtani $700 million, but he's coming off another All-Star 30-100 season. His bat was only worth about 2.0 WAR alone, so that means he probably won't sign until closer to spring training. Meanwhile, there's every chance he'll prove to be a bargain, just like he was for $10 million in L.A.

A player who has been tied to the Red Sox is former Royals outfielder Jorge Soler, a hulking slugger who led the AL with 48 homers in 2019 and is coming off a 36-homer campaign with the Marlins that earned him his first All-Star berth at age 31.

Soler offers little value in the field, but he can absolutely mash, and the Red Sox need a right-handed bat to split the left-handed duo of Devers and first baseman Triston Casas. Even if he can't do much else, Soler is at least a legitimate threat to leave the yard.

He's one-dimensional and won't win an exec any awards for creativity, but so what? Sometimes the most obvious solution is actually the most viable one, too, and rather than turn the DH spot into a dreary carousel again, the Red Sox should find one man capable of making it his full-time job.

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